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Brain implant bypasses damaged nerves to control paralyzed limbs

Scientists have been able to bypass the nervous system entirely to help paralyzed patients regain control over their limbs.

Research shows that it is possible to transit signals directly from neurons to paralyzed limbs. Image credit: Turbo Limb

Ever dream of having an “avatar” body like in James Cameron’s epic sci-fi flick? Want to pilot robots using only the thoughts in your head? Or perhaps you have been injured and paralyzed and are looking for a way to regain movement.

If so, you will be interested in the recent breakthrough by scientists working at the Ohio State University, and The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York. Scientists have made yet another major breakthrough in the field of neuro-transplants.

Researchers were able to attach an array of microscopic electrodes into a paralyzed individual’s motor cortex. Then, using powerful computers, they were able to decode the messages being sent from the brain to the arm. Next, using electrodes, they were able to stimulate the arm and to get it to move.

The current test subject, Ian Burkhart, was injured while swimming into the ocean back in 2010. After a wave pushed him into a shallow sandbar while diving, he was left paralyzed.

Interestingly, Burkhart was able to use the implant effectively very quickly. Unfortunately, the implant takes a long time to calibrate and can only be used a few times a week. Further, huge computing power is required for the system to work. This means it’s a long, long way from actually helping patients in their daily life.

In the years following the injury, Burkhart was left incapable of moving, and due to the nature of the injury, it was unlikely that his spine would be able to repair itself. The implant works not by repairing damage to the nervous system, but instead by bypassing it all together.

Before this breakthrough, scientists had already proven that they could decode brain signals and that patients could control robotic arms. This marks the first time, however, that researchers have been able to bypass the nervous system in a human and control movement in limbs.

You can find the details of the study here

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